One of the best things I’ve done in the past year is buy a subscription to The Hockey News. With hockey pushed to the sidelines by most sports media outlets, it’s fun to dig into each issue and enter a world where my favorite game is the only one worth talking about.
I believe that mythical place is called “Canada.”
Of course, with the NHL lockout still ongoing, the folks at THN have had to expend more brain power than usual to discover fresh story angles. One of their most inspired ideas arrived with the latest issue, as the publication asked 10 prominent names in hockey for their suggestions to improve the sport.
Penguins center Sidney Crosby was one of those approached for the article, and the NHL’s biggest star obliged with an idea to replace 4-on-4 overtime in the regular season with a more open 3-on-3 format. Crosby added that it would lead to more strategic decisions for coaches and lead to more games being decided in a “team-oriented” manner instead of via the individualized shootout.
I can’t disagree, although I might tinker with that idea a bit. I would propose five minutes of 4-on-4 followed by five more of 3-on-3 to really maximize the chances of an OT goal, which is a thought that’s been tossed around at recent NHL general managers’ meetings.
But while I enjoyed seeing Crosby chime in on the topic of improving hockey, the advice that intrigued me the most came from the mind of longtime NHL sniper/power forward Jarome Iginla. The Calgary Flames right winger stated that he’d like to see the league explore making nets bigger.
If you’re a hockey fan, you know this is a touchy subject. Since the dawn of organized ice hockey on this continent, the net size has held firm at six feet by four feet, and God help you if you try to suggest otherwise in the presence of traditionalists.
However, common sense holds that as human beings have gotten bigger and goaltender equipment has likewise expanded, perhaps the time has come (or has passed) for the goal to adjust its dimensions. Yes, it is a noted goal-scorer going on the record with this, but Iginla admits that he used to be fine with the status quo until experience changed his perspective.
The argument against bigger nets holds that more scoring isn’t a magic elixir that would make hockey more exciting. I actually agree with that, but I find myself tuning out when an NHLer takes a long shot because I know the goalie is going to stop it 99 times out of 100. All I’m asking for is to tilt the balance of power away from the shot-stoppers a bit.
A level playing field is compelling, as Iginla notes when he refers to how Major League Baseball lowered the mound when pitchers got too dominant in the late ’60s and when the NBA added the 3-point shot to force defenses out from under the basket. Hockey has never been accused of being the most progressive sport, but if the stuck-in-the-past MLB can make drastic changes, any league can.
To add to his point, Iginla highlights how expanding the net by a few inches in both height and width could actually benefit goalies, too. He argues there will be a better opportunity for modern ‘tenders to show off their elite athleticism if there’s more square footage to cover.
All in all, Iginla makes a compelling case, which is downright refreshing. Hockey players are stereotypically reserved, and having a still-active legend speak up on such a major alteration to the game is rare. Some in the media, like ESPN’s John Buccigross, have made this point in the past, but this is different.
To be clear, I’m not exactly optimistic this will happen in the next few years. On the other hand, goaltending has advanced so much in the past 20 years that scoring will continue to shrivel up, especially with teams more disciplined defensively than ever before.
The odd-man rush is going the way of the mastodon and goalies are increasingly superhuman. Iginla is simply suggesting a way for hockey to adjust to its current defensive era.
I get that scoring chances, not simply goals, are what make the game exciting, but there’s got to be a reasonable chance a given shot will trigger a red light. Time to take the NHL back from the masked men.